Why is the war itself not even named in Stephen Crane's Red Badge of Courage?

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Stephen Crane's novel The Red Badge of Courage is the first novel of the War genre that analyzes themes at the battlefield from the perspective of the soldier, and not from the point of view of the machinery of war itself.

Rather than narrating as an omniscient but detached perspective, Red Badge enters deep inside the emotional and psychological chaos suffered by the young soldier, Henry, who is wondering what to do: save himself by escaping the war, or honoring the cause by fighting to his death.

This being said, the setting of the novel is the American Civil War. This is evident not only in the description of the conflict itself, but also because Crane is not shy to point out the specific places where battles took place, all being Civil War battle sites.

However, the novel is not about the Civil War. Crane wanted to make this quite evident. Prior to this novel, all other novels dealing with war were basically narratives of who did what, who won, and who lost. Therefore there is no point in calling the war by a "name" when, in fact, any soldier could be in the same situation as Henry, suffering just as much, and fearing the same fears all the same in any war.

The youth studied the faces of his companions, ever on the watch to detect kindred emotions. He suffered disappointment. Some ardor of the air which was causing the veteran commands to move with glee—almost with song—had infected the new regiment.

War is terrible, and it creates havoc in the lives of soldiers. That is the theme that Crane wants to develop in the novel, and not yet another account of the events that took place at Fort. This, or Camp That.

The Red Badge of Courage is therefore the first anti-war novel written at a sensitive time , 1895, merely 18 years after the Reconstruction. It is no wonder why it was banned from the approved books of the American Library Association a year after it was published. Still, it is clear that the universality of the soldier's courage versus the humanity of the soldier itself is appreciated by readers and understood as a sad but true reality in every country.
 
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